Yusuf Hamied (left) with actor Ian McKellen. Picture by Amit Roy
Cambridge, June 18: Yusuf Hamied, head of the Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla, was conferred an honorary doctorate of science by Cambridge University in a colourful ceremony stretching back hundreds of years.
But rarely in 800 years can there have been as powerful a speech as that delivered in the Senate House today by the university’s orator, Rupert Thomson.
He spoke in Latin, which he had written himself, and also provided the English text so that nothing was lost in translation.
The university backed up Hamied’s life-long battle to save lives, especially of AIDS sufferers in Africa.
Hamied, in scarlet gown with silver trimming, stood before the university’s chancellor, Lord Chancellor, resplendent in gold, as the orator used stirring words to depict the battle between good and evil.
“Twin pestilences are my theme: one a disease which especially ravages the poor, the other avarice which so twists the minds of the rich they put profit before the lives of those they ought most to help,” began the orator, who made clear his intent to take no prisoners.
Thomson then described the havoc that AIDS had caused in Africa before turning on the merchants of death in language which has probably never been heard before in the Senate House.
“Yes it was not some deficiency of medical science which condemned the people of Africa to death, but the greed of the drug manufacturers. ‘Those who own the factories should enjoy a monopoly,’ they say. ‘You want the medicine, we set the price. Take it or leave it.’ But you ask a week’s wages for a single dose! ‘Anyway,’ they reply, ‘we’re talking about savages who don’t even use clocks, these drugs need to be taken at specific times. What good would they do them?’”
Then as a packed Senate House listened — there were hundreds of gowns but colour coded to denote a pecking order — the orator turned to the actions of India’s knight on a silver charger.
“Our honorand, however, values the health of his fellow men more than the profits of the wealthy. He ignored the threats of the drug barons and broke their stranglehold: for what developing country can respect monopolies while its people are dying?”
Thomson continued: “He produced AIDS medicines at a cost of less than a dollar a day. He combined the drugs into a single pill which can be taken daily. His drugs have saved so many people that his company has been called the world’s pharmacy. Indeed, in Africa, it has been said, Cipla is a temple, and Dr Hamied its God. But this most humanitarian of men simply replies, ‘I don’t want to make money from these diseases which cause the whole fabric of society to crumble.”
There was thunderous applause and a shy smile from Hamied after the orator had concluded: “Distinguished Chancellor, members of the university, I present to you Yusuf Hamied, MA, PhD, Hon FRSC, Honorary Fellow of Christ’s College, pharmaceutical chemist and philanthropist, Chairman of Cipla Ltd that he may receive the title of the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.”
Afterwards, Hamied’s wife Farida said: “The ceremony was beautiful.”
Her late father, the filmmaker A.R. Kardar, “would have loved the colour and the drama”.
As for Hamied, all he would mumble was: “This honour is totally undeserved.”